The Spot messenger is a personal satellite locator. It's a relatively
simple device that doesn't rely on cellular towers for sending messages.
The device has four buttons: On/off, Ok, Help and 911, like I said,
simple. The basic level of service allows you to push the Ok button to
send a message to a distribution list you've created with GPS
coordinates and a brief note that everything is alright. The Help button
sends GPS coordinates a message to the distribution list requesting that
someone send assistance (not an emergency, you just want some help). The
911 button alerts emergency services with your location and a request
for emergency assistance.
When you register the device, you can also upgrade services to include
additional global search and rescue insurance (at a very reasonable
annual cost) and to provide a web based tracking service that will
update a web page with your location every 10 minutes while the device
is turned on.
I learned about the device when my friend Adrian Stingaciu did the
Divide mountain bike race (starts in Canada near the US/Canadian border
and goes to the US / Mexico border -- over 2,000 miles of mountain bike
racing! Ouch!). I became a daily addict watching the racers progress
across the country. Someone on the route did use the 911 feature once to
get emergency support for a car accident that happened on a remote part
of the route. Strange how fun it is to watch little dots moving across a google map.
Annette also liked the concept, so we debated about getting a spot
messenger for my long distance rides. Then Costco started selling them
right around Christmas last year. It included the device and one year of
basic service. We thought it would be a good investment and would help
with peace of mind, so I bought one before the Casa Grande Century in
January. And I bought the additional insurance and web tracking update
service...might as well get the full package! Unfortunately, my initial
experience with web tracking wasn't stellar. I put the device in a
jersey pocket and it seemed to work for the first 10 or 15 miles, then
it stopped updating the webpage. I contacted Spot technical support
after the ride and they said it appeared the device couldn't find
satellites. Hmmmm.... I tried it again on a 200k brevet later in the
month and had a similar problem. So I searched the web for potential
Turns out the Spot Messenger has a "patch" antennae located under the
spot logo on the device. To get a good satellite signal that logo needs
to have an unobstructed view of the sky. So on those initial rides, I had
the spot in my back jersey pocket, but when it warmed up, I stuffed arm
warmers and leg warmers back there too and probably blocked the signal.
Lesson learned! For the 300k, I used a detours trunk and secured the
Spot messenger to the top. It now had a clear, unobstructed view of the
sky for the entire ride ... and it worked perfectly! The web page
updated every 10 minutes as advertised! On rides where I didn't have the
detours trunk, I attached the spot to the back of my seat bag. It wasn't
pointed up, but it wasn't obstructed either. That worked ok until Mine
Country Challenge last weekend. Then the device worked consistently for
about 1/2 of the ride before it stopped sending updates. I was riding
next to a pretty big cliff, so the terrain could have been obstructing
it initially, but later I was riding through open range and it still
didn't update (of course, since there's no error indicators on the
device, I had no idea there was a problem). Near the end of the ride
updates started occurring again.
Battery life in the device is supposed to be 14 days, but I don't know
if that includes sending web updates every 10 minutes. It could be that
I used up the first set of batteries. It hasn't been close to 14 days of
continuous use, but it's probably close to 72 hours of web updating. I
swapped the batteries for the MS Bike Round Up, but continue to have
spotty web updates. It may be that the device is hanging
vertically off the saddle bag, so the logo isn't facing up. I'll
have to figure out a way to get that logo pointed up. The device
has a belt clip so it is intended to hang vertically, so I'm surprised
it has such problems when the logo isn't directly up.
So, what's the verdict? Is the device worth the $150+/year fee? The
device is far from perfect and really needs some improvements
(especially with the consistency of the web updates), but it is
ABSOLUTELY worth the investment! It's unobtrusive for me and my
family LOVES seeing where I am during a ride, even if it isn't at the
advertised 10 minute per web update rate. When the device stops
sending updates for a significant amount of time (~an hour), Annette
tries to call, so I want it to work
consistently, but just giving them some peace of mind and security in
knowing where I am and that I can always push that "help" button is
Here's my wish list for the next generation messenger:
- a battery life scale/bar indicator. I'd like to know how much juice is
left before I go on an adventure so I can change batteries if needed
- the option for an external, stronger antennae. I always want a
satellite signal, even if it means I may have to change batteries a bit
more frequently (and that battery indicator would help tell me that)
- an "error" indicator that stays on if more than one or two message
transmission attempts is unsuccessful so I know when my family isn't
- a smaller form factor (yeah, I'm asking for nirvana). Work with
Garmin! I have a Garmin 405 wristwatch GPS that gets a signal INDOORS!
If Garmin can do that with such a small device, surely there's hope of
getting a smaller Spot.
- Rechargeable, built in li-po batteries with a mini-USB charging port.
There are MANY portable mini-USB battery chargers out there. I use an
Energizer Energi-to-go and an APC charging device for my Garmin 705 that
both work perfectly and I always have them on long events.
- A "friendly" URL for Spot updates... something like findmespot.com/enfield
If the folks at Find Me Spot deliver these, I'll be one of the first
to upgrade my device!